Stam small

French cubist painter Fernand Léger’s wartime proposal to Leon Trotskii for “a polychrome Moscow”

According to a catalogue accompanying the Whitechapel Art Gallery’s landmark London exhibition Fernand Léger: The Later Years, edited by Nicolas Serota, the great French abstractionist advanced a radically colorful proposal for the layout of the 1937 Paris international exhibition that would feature

…a yellow square, a red and blue avenue, an Eiffel tower with a camouflaged silhouette…that would all be lit up at night, instead of fireworks.

Much to the painter’s chagrin, this proposal would only be partially realized. The Eiffel Tower — that iconic remnant from arguably the greatest of all world’s fairs, the Exposition Universelle of 1889 — would again be electrified and lit up, just as it had been for the 1925 bonanza. Even then, there’d be fireworks. In intermittent flashes, these served to illuminate its ferrous skeleton from behind the promenade.

Fireworks at the 1937 Paris exhibition

Fireworks at the 1937 Paris exhibition, despite Léger’s reservations. On the left in the photo, Speer’s monument. On the right, Iofan’s.

Outlines of the exhibition’s virtual frontispiece, which featured Hitler’s Deutscher Pavillon, designed by Albert Speer, set against Stalin’s Советский павильон, designed by Boris Iofan, were cast as a grim prefiguration of the unsurpassed bloodshed the two nations would experience over the next decade at each other’s hands. Continue reading